Saturday, June 04, 2005

Edinburgh – Cannons, Spiral Staircases, and Pig Lungs

Okay, so I spent the first day in Edinburgh climbing around underground and creeping about in a graveyard. After all that, I needed a drink. And, this being Scotland, the land where the whisky flows freely, I decided to have a wee nip of hot chocolate. Leaving the graveyard, I headed to the first coffee house I saw…the Elephant House. Now, I had ulterior motives for heading here. After all, it was here that JK Rowling sat and wrote the first Harry Potter novel. And, evidently, while sitting here she had a few inspirations for the book. Looking out the windows (in the autumn when the leaves fall off the trees), you can look across Greyfriars Cemetery and see George Heriots School, housed in an old, very large, castle-like building. Also, buried in the cemetery is William McGonagall, perhaps where a certain character’s name came from. And, standing in the bathroom, looking up at the ceiling (don’t ask, really), I saw the exhaust fan, labelled ‘expellair.’

After my hot chocolate and a quick internet session, I headed back to the Kenneth Mackenzie Suite. (And despite the name, there was no poltergeist. Or, if there was, either it ignored me or I just slept really soundly.) Included in my room price was a full Scottish Breakfast. Excited though I was to be eating some genuine Scottish cuisine, the only difference that I could see between a full English Breakfast and a full Scottish Breakfast was that the full Scottish Breakfast came with a rather large black hair in the mushrooms. But perhaps I’m just being picky…

Despite the rain (look, it’s Scotland, it rains), I decided to continue with my sightseeing plans (look, it’s Scotland, it might rain forever). I headed up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. (Yes, it was uphill…the entire way.) I paid my money and collected my handy audio guide. (You know, perhaps I’ll add an audio guide to the blog…you know, so you can walk around your house or place of work and listen to me talk and read this blog…yeah, that’d be well good!)

Despite the rain (look, it’s Scotland, but it’s not the same paragraph as last time), I still had a very nice view of Edinburgh. Let’s see, what else can I say about the castle… It has some museums (including the National War Museum and some regimental museums. It has cannons…lots of them. It has the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny. It has a rather nice Great Hall. It has some prisons – some old ones from the 1700s and some newer ones, last used briefly during World War II. It has St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh – it dates from around 1130. It also has a large gun that fires each day (other than Sundays and Christmas) at 1:00 – a tradition dating back to the time when this was the only way to let people know the exact time.

Despite the rain (look, it’s Scotland, and yet another paragraph starting this way), I headed to the Scott Monument. Now, before you pick on my spelling, it really is Scott not Scot. It’s a memorial to the writer Sir Walter Scott. It’s huge (200 feet, six inches to the tip top). It rises out of the centre of Edinburgh like some sort of terribly out-of-place black stone monument (which it is…). Well, actually, I don’t think it was originally black, it’s just the last 165 years of soot and grime. Anyway, given my penchant for winding my way up spiral staircases, it’s no wonder I was drawn to this monument like a moth to a fluorescent lamp – it won’t kill me but I’ll bounce around against it for a bit.

As a side note, I’m happy to report that spiral stairs at the Scott Monument are not the cantilevered type. Instead, they are centrally-supported. (Warning: Engineering geek stuff coming up.) Does this matter? Structurally, probably not. Psychologically and physically, yes. The cantilevered type of spiral stairs are imbedded into the side walls and there is no central column going up, just an empty space going all the way up (or down). The centrally-supported type has a supporting column running the height of the staircase. So, when there is just a hole running the whole height of the staircase, it’s rather creepy to be able to see the entire was down and there is nothing but empty space on one side of you (on the other hand, it is nice to be able to gauge how close to the end you are). With a centrally-supported stairs, you have some type of enclosure on either side of you as you climb (or descend).

After the Scott Monument, I walked across the street to Jenner’s. According to an advert I saw, New York has Bloomingdale’s, London has Harrod’s, and Edinburgh has Jenner’s, supposedly the oldest independent department store in the world. It’s not as huge as Harrod’s (which automatically makes it better) but it’s fairly nice. It has a large central hall that is open to about three stories above. I saw a few nice ties, but all I bought was some summer fruit sweets and some cherry shortbread biscuits in a Jenner’s tin.

For dinner, I went to Viva Mexico again. (Ah yes, I got to Scotland and eat Mexican food. Well, it was either that or pig lungs.) And, it was very, very nice. It’s just off the Royal Mile on Cockburn Street. Go there. But I’m not sure I’d recommend the cheese and haggis quesadilas.

After dinner, I decided to walk around Greyfriar’s Cemetery again. This time it was lighter out and I took some pictures. But I made sure to stay far, far away from the Covenanters’ Prison.

And then, despite the fact that the rain had stopped, I was still damp so I went back to the Kenneth Mackenzie Suite.


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